People Management while PMing

I’ve worked in the product industry for six to seven years, and I’m currently a senior product manager at a large company.

No matter how many books, courses, conferences, or YouTube videos I watch about product management, I’ve discovered, it makes no difference. I have researched all strategies and techniques. It makes no difference how sound my reasoning is or how adept I am at solving problems. But the subject of people in product management is something that neither a book nor a methodology can educate.

Unless you have a competent team that works well together and has wonderful internal dynamics no matter what, you can have a terrific product, amazing technology, a solid business plan, and great processes, but these things frequently don’t matter because there are people issues within the team.

There are numerous people-related abilities that you just cannot learn by reading a book, including interpersonal skills, creating a high-performing team, stakeholder management, aligning the team around a vision, dispute resolution, mentoring and coaching, and many other people-related areas. Nowadays, people are the center of everything.

What knowledge or advice do you have to provide on the people aspect of product management?


For me, developing “people skills” begins with understanding what “work” entails for you. This will change the way you perceive the people around you, which will change how others perceive all of your words and deeds. You can be clumsy or socially uncomfortable and things will still work out if they believe you have their best interests at heart. If not, no amount of “people skills” will be able to save those connections.

It’s great that folks in Silicon Valley are passionate about “building cool stuff” and “making an impact,” but there’s a delicate line between saying something is important to you and saying it’s your life’s work. If the latter, then other individuals are by definition only a means to that end in your perspective, and they are aware of that. Serving a purpose greater than the people around us is admirable, but it can also be perverted and lead to a lot of suffering. Elizabeth Holmes is a prime example of this.

For me, I don’t practice religion, but if I’m wrong and I end up in purgatory (or whatever version of purgatory you believe in), St Peter will ask me, “What cool stuff did you build?” If that is the standard for what is good in the world, then the people I most want to spend the hereafter with won’t be there, so I would probably ask to go to hell instead.

But more likely, the questions posed at that gate will be along the lines of: "Did you love the people around you? Did they feel like you cared about them? Were their lives enriched because they spent time with you, or were you just a hurdle they had to overcome? " I’ve read a lot of books by people on their deathbed, so I’ll probably ask myself these questions near the end.

The other things (what we launch, the metrics we’re attempting to move) are merely there to support that, and for me, work is a place to confront those questions.

You requested advice/insights, so I apologize if this came across as a bit preachy :slight_smile:


@EvaRichardson, that is one of the most insightful types of feedback I have received in a while.

I have a story I like to share with others. When discussing the “early success” of the product, this is the norm. I explain to them: "At the time, I had a certain idea of where I wanted to lead us with the product, and I could almost see it as a light at the end of the tunnel. I also knew precisely how to get everyone there. Early on, the intensity of this product vision allowed anyone in the way to move out of the way. I yelled, “Everyone get out of my way, I know exactly where we’re going and how to get there.”

It was an interesting tale to tell, and other people would frequently nod in agreement. I believed it demonstrated my strong product vision and my ability to lead a group of high-achieving individuals to accomplish the goals we set.

Now that I look at it from a completely other angle, I realize that what I really meant to say was that “in my eyes, people are merely a means to that end,” and I’m confident that they could see that.

Now that I think about it, I think that’s a terrible tale to keep spreading. And if I ask myself, “Were their lives made richer by spending time with you, or were you just a hurdle they had to jump over?” I can say with absolute certainty that I saw them as a barrier to realising that initial product vision.

I appreciate the advice; it has certainly given me a lot to consider.


Some people simply can’t learn how to get along with others, even outside of the field of PM. It depends a lot on the individual and their background and is probably pretty common in the PM world because those who “take matters into their own hands” and are “doers” and other euphemisms for being a control freak are favoured.

Spend a week observing your research or support staff, since I’ve discovered those jobs generally have good empathy and EQ both internally and externally. This is one way to expose oneself to different business areas. They teach us a lot about how to interact with people.

The correct mentor or boss makes a major difference as well. Many fail to teach people-first ideals in their direct reports, despite the fact that this should be a key component of any employee’s development.

Instead of always engaging my more aloof coworkers on work-related topics, I’ve had excellent success in simply chit-chatting with them in the workplace and accepting whatever small talk they’re open to sharing. Getting someone to open up about their interests, family, pets, etc. without being intrusive is a terrific approach to build a stronger personal and professional connection.

Hope this is helpful!


I stumbled into working with products early in my career out of necessity. I came to the conclusion that I was the only co-founder who had a thorough understanding of the market we were aiming for.

After around 20 years, I’ve discovered that this is the area of a project where I typically bring the most value, whether it be for a brand in which I have an ownership share, a product being developed for a partner, or a consulting position with a business.

The products which I concentrate on are almost always premium in the context of the segment and always hardware + software (firmware, for sure, but perhaps more).

When advising, I typically put everything up, including the supply chain, pricing, factories, and engineering help from semiconductor vendors.

When I was visiting an important client in California a few years ago, I experienced an epiphany.

I and the executive team had decided on something of a broad concept.

I had two meetings that day with every team, including operations, engineering, marketing, and sales.

The topic of the first meeting was the product. It was an extremely thorough text-based product brief that listed individual features, their advantages, pricing ranges, and general sales channel/positioning information.

Feedback from the second meeting allowed me to vanish and carry out my plan.

I attended each initial meeting. They went very well. There are many good questions.

A study of human perception by accident was conducted during the second round of meetings.

Despite having the same brief, it was obvious that each section had a different conception of the final product. There are occasions when doing so would be fundamentally at odds with the goals and missions of other departments.

All of my product briefs are now heavily visual, and wherever I can, I show up with a mockup to discuss on day one.

This aids in shifting the focus of the product discussion from “what if” to “what’s next”.

According to my experience, starting with a mockup massively accelerates time to market because everyone is uniting around a tangible goal.


Great comment @HannahBorges. I’ve learnt the hard-ish way (but at least I’m still early in my career so can hopefully use it!) that making sure all the different people involved are super clear and truly understand what it is you’re trying to build is so important. Like you say, pictures, mockups as soon as possible are often the best way to make sure everyone actually understands what it is you are making - and that everyone has the same picture of what the goal is.


For me, the most helpful thing has just been showing a real interest in the issues or OKRs of the people I need to work with. Understanding a person’s motivations will make it much simpler for you to train or collaborate with them.


Quite agree to @MarcoSilva, Understand people’s motivations. It gives you empathy when they act in ways that are less than ideal (make surprising decisions, are rude, etc). It also helps you understand their language and what resonates with them when you are trying to persuade them.


There are lots written about how to lead, influence and perused folks. I think Simon Sinek has some great material out there. However, one of the best books I have read recently is “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss. It’s about negotiation, but it applies to pretty much any type of communication.


I am aware that you claimed a book couldn’t teach you this information. I am opposed.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a good place to start. Although the phrase sounds cheesy, the underlying ideas it conveys are important when dealing with people.

Then read Andy Grove’s High Output Management, which goes into detail about leading, managing, and coaching teams especially.


Thanks @KaneMorgan! Actually, that’s good advice; I read the book (High Output Management) three or four years ago, and it’s definitely time I did so again!


I edited to add a second book around managing teams after re-reading your post. I review both these books every couple of years and give all of my new hires a copy of High Output Management


I frequently hear How to Win Friends recommended, however I considered it to be a rather pointless book. The majority of the advise felt like plain sense (some of it even seemed cringey in today’s environment), but I’m not sure if it is because it is general knowledge now but wasn’t at the time of publication.

For instance, “become genuinely interested in other people” is principle 1 of winning people over. The rest of the advise (ask questions, smile, and be a good listener) would come easy if you were genuinely interested in other people. However, what I really needed to know was how to get along with people that you couldn’t care less about.


@RisaButler, The principles themselves are common sense once you understand them and have incorporated them into your interactions. Most people haven’t, so having it all laid out in front of you in one resource can be very helpful for folks. I think of it as a primer to relationships that you can easily review on a regular basis.

At the risk of sounding like a jerk, it sounds like you haven’t quite incorporated these principles if you haven’t reconciled that “how to work well with people you really couldn’t care less about” is answered by “become genuinely interested in other people.” It’s not easy to work well with other folks if you don’t view them as more than resources to do your bidding.

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Yes, I never got the buzz. It appears that the book’s goal is to impart the basics of human interaction to a robot who has never experienced empathy. If someone were to follow the recommendations in the book rather than being real, it would be obvious within a few seconds.

It’s also quite outdated and downright naf in other ways. The modern workplace is significantly more complicated and frequently multicultural, and it calls for a higher level of skill in interpersonal communication.

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